I earlier this year attended a conference in Seattle, WA, (USA) titled “Metabolic Health and Nutrition Across the Life Span.” The headlining presenters were Dr. David Ludwig and Dr. Robert Lustig – both pediatric endocrinologists, researchers, authors, etc.
Though my notebook overflows with wisdom, practical tips, inspiration, and what-if’s, I’d like to share some of the salient points that made this conference worth my time and effort to attend. If one wishes to dive deeper, there is far more information available in each of these presenters’ websites and publications.
Part 2: After seeking to understand and discover solutions to societal issues that are a scourge to our physical and mental health, there is a shift in the discussion to how nature impacts our health – from microscopic organisms to spending time among the flora and fauna of the outdoors. Finally, the role of our minds in our eating behavior is examined.
The hacking of the American mind
Robert Lustig, M.D., MSL
A litany of depressing facts and figures were presented, pointing to the numerous problems with American society and the ineffective policies that continue making us sicker, less happy, more addicted, and more stressed.
Obesity is increasing worldwide by 2.78% per year 1978-2015.
Diabetes is increasing worldwide by 4.07% per year 1980-2014.
There are more people who are thin and sick than there are people who are obese and sick.
The diet-heart hypothesis (implicating fat in heart disease) has been debunked numerous times, and yet the advice to avoid fat continues to prevail. Processed food is driving unprecedented rates of chronic metabolic disease, and the problem is unsustainable – bound to bankrupt Medicare and not being addressed by recent healthcare bills. In fact, there is not a single mention of “diet” in the Affordable Care Act.
Sugar, in particular, the focus of much of Dr. Lustig’s research, is toxic, unrelated to calorie intake. Sugar consumption, with adverse effects on lipids and fat accumulation, exploded with the introduction of processed foods in the 1960’s.
Addiction to sugar, processed foods, and drugs are all real threats to our future and are not being adequately addressed. These addictions, encouraged by businesses and made easier by government legislation, have led to unprecedented rates of chronic metabolic disease, depression, drug abuse, overdose deaths, and suicides.
The hypothesis and proposed solution are based on the fact that humans tend to pursue pleasure (short-lived, shallow, isolating, and associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine) rather than happiness (long-lived, more meaningful, inclusive, and associated with the neurotransmitter serotonin).
Physiologically, the differences between the actions of dopamine and serotonin on nerve receptors explain why dopamine-driven behaviors are associated with addiction, which can result in permanent changes in the brain, whereas serotonin-driven behaviors are not, “so you can’t overdose on too much happiness.”
The solution: The 4 C’s (not discussed at the conference – details available in Dr. Lustig’s book, The Hacking of the American Mind.
Waistline too big? Blame your bugs
Eran Segal, Ph.D. and Eran Elinav, M.D., Ph.D.
Your diet shapes your microbiome.
The microbiome appears to have profound influence on our metabolic health, but the mechanisms by which it does are yet poorly understood.
The microbiome appears to be influenced by circadian rhythm. In one experiment, stool samples from a group of jet-lagged students were transferred to sterile mice and actually induced metabolic changes leading to obesity and diabetes in the mice.
There also appears to be a “memory” of metabolic derangement, such that an altered microbiome profile was retained long after significant weight loss, and this “memory” can be transferred to germ-free mice.
Their lab has developed a complex algorithm utilizing gut microbiome data that has greatly improved the ability to predict an individual’s glucose response to dietary carbohydrate intake. Using this information, they have crafted personalized meal plans to reduce an individual’s glucose response to meals.
Dietary interventions aimed at reducing post-meal glucose responses actually induce changes in the microbiota.
Specifically, the glucose response to which bread – white or sourdough – was able to be predicted based on an individual’s microbiome composition.
The microbiome is a “2nd genome” with huge implications on our health.
Culinary medicine, healthy aging, and a Green Rx: Treating nature deficit disorder
John La Puma, M.D. FACP
Nature Deficit Disorder is a concept originated in 2005 theorizing that an inadequate amount of time spent outdoors negatively impacts human health. Our disconnection from nature is thought to be driven by 3 main factors: excess screen time, urbanization without greening, and increased awareness of stranger danger.
There is increasing evidence that Nature Therapy – essentially spending more time outdoors – is beneficial in numerous ways.
One well-studied example is myopia (nearsightedness). The rate of myopia is increasing rapidly, especially among children (daily screen time averages 1h 55m for children less than 8 years old and 7h 38m for children between 8 and 18 years old). It is known that seeing blue and green actually helps the retina develop, and it is also beneficial to see objects at a distance rather than up close. Spending just 1 extra hour outside daily is associated with a 14% decrease in myopia.
Other research findings supporting the use of nature in the medical setting:
- When receiving the Influenza vaccine, children who viewed a virtual reality scene of ocean life for ~30 seconds before, during, and after the vaccination reported 45-74% less pain.
- Patients with a view of nature had shorter lengths of stay and required fewer medications following gallbladder surgery than those without a nature view.
Metabolic health meets your mind: Why how we eat may solve the conundrum of “what to eat”
Tanmeet Sethi, M.D.
Humans frequently respond to stress with a primitive “famine” response, i.e. stress-eating. There is an association between chronic stress and a particular preference for foods high in sugar and fat.
Stress, however, impairs digestion and absorption through numerous mechanisms.
It is common for us to forget the remorse and guilt of overeating. Thus, it is important to focus on mindful eating. Some key components of mindful eating include awareness of hunger cues, use of smaller plates, and avoidance of distracted eating.
Not surprisingly, mindful eating is associated with a reduction in binge eating, reduced weight, helps with chronic eating disorders as well as anxious thoughts about one’s body, and reduces symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
When one gives in to food cravings or mindless eating, it is important to avoid self-criticism, but rather to learn from mistakes and be kind to oneself.
How to love cooking at home: Incorporating mindfulness practice into vooking
Cynthia Lair, CHN
Gratefulness negates worry: There is a sense of awe and gratefulness when working with real ingredients, not with processed food.
The senses are a yoga teacher: All of our senses are engaged in cooking and can pull us into a place of mindfulness.
Focus makes the food taste better: Focusing on our senses while cooking can teach us about the intricacies of food preparation and what works best.
Thoughts come and go; the food is now: Be present in the moment when preparing food, allowing you to detach from thoughts about the past or present.
The author has a book with many recipes, some of which were shared with the conference attendees — Feeding the Whole Family, 4th ed.